Understanding the American Diet and its Effects on our Health

Matt Paley
Matt Paley

Today’s guest post was written by Matt Paley, the founder and CEO of Share It Fitness, which provides us with a revolutionary new approach to health and fitness. The old model of paying a trainer, or yoga instructor, or golf pro, or you name it, 50, 60, 70 dollars an hour to simply count or re-use a generic workout routine on you isn’t effective nor cost-efficient. What if you could have a dedicated professional with you, not just a few hours a week, but EVERY DAY OF YOUR LIFE. Motivating, guiding, advising, and supporting you in all your fitness needs. The time has come for a change in the way fitness, health, and sport instruction is delivered.

ShareItFitness.com is the answer. The ShareItFitness blog, has a wide range of health and fitness news. The information found on the blog is only going to be the tip of the iceberg in terms of what ShareItFitness will be able to offer. You can also connect with us on Twitter and Facebook for additional fitness tips. Thanks for checking us out and keep on living well.

Breaking Down the American Diet

While not a “diet” in the sense you may be thinking, the American Diet is one that millions of people follow, mostly unaware, for the majority of their lives. The bad part is, this easily followed “diet” isn’t doing us any good. If anything, it’s contribution to the high rates of obesity and mortality that we are experiencing in this country.

The American Diet has large amounts of sodium, sugar, simple carbs, and bad fats, which include the worst offender, trans fat. We consume these by the plateful almost every time we go out to eat. Unfortunately as Americans, we eat out a lot.

These four things are the major barriers that stand between us and a long, healthy life. If we can learn how to eat less of these bad nutrients, and more of the healthy ones, we will unlock the largest component to a healthy lifestyle. This section is going to break down the health consequences of each of the above offenders so you may have a more practical idea of what’ s going on inside your body.

Sodium

Sodium is not inherently bad for you. It is a vital chemical in human function and a necessary dietary requirement. On the other hand, too much sodium is most certainly a detriment to healthy living. The recommended daily intake of sodium is between 750mg and 1,500mg. That’ s roughly a teaspoon and a half of salt. Unfortunately most Americans are consuming between 4 to 10 times this amount! Sodium is liberally used in restaurant meals as well as canned and frozen meals at home. It’ s even found in foods that don’t taste salty, like diet soda! Sodium itself isn’ t killing us, it’s the amount of sodium we take in that’s causing us problems.

When we have excess quantities of sodium in our body, our blood cells swell as they take in more water. Sodium draws the water into the cell and retains it. In turn, this increases the volume of blood we have flowing throughout our veins. To compensate, the heart must work harder to ensure blood is pumped to all tissues in the body. In addition, arterioles, which are blood vessels that constrict and dilate to allow blood through are also affected. When high amounts of sodium are present, the arterioles constrict, which lets less blood through.

Resistance is increased and less blood reaches the heart, further making the heart work harder. Imagine a cartoon garden hose. When one end is squeezed the water builds up in the other end. While some water may be trickling through, the vast majority of water is building up behind the constriction point. Eventually the hose is going to explode due to the elevated water pressure. The combination of increased blood volume and constricting blood vessels are the two major physiological reasons that led to high blood pressure.

Chronically elevated blood pressure is the cause of many ailments affecting our population. High blood pressure is the most vital risk factor for stroke. Popped blood vessels in the brain leak blood, which can contribute towards a stroke. Vision problems often occur as a result of blood vessels in the eyes popping due to chronically heightened blood volume.

High blood pressure is also responsible for the hardening of arteries. When people age, arteries in the brain, heart, and kidneys naturally harden. High blood pressure aids this progression exponentially. Heart attack is an especial risk for those diagnosed with elevated blood pressure. When the heart can’t get enough blood flow, it goes into cardiac arrest.

Sugar

Sugar is one of those things that we can’t seem to get enough of. It is in our human nature to desire sweet and delectable food. Restaurants know this, and use it to their advantage. Much like sodium, when taken in moderation, sugar isn’t very detrimental to our health. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize desserts and the like are high in sugar. The problem is so many foods we wouldn’ t expect are incredibly high in sugar. Pasta sauce, barbeque sauce, canned fruits, granola bars, and instant oatmeal are just a few examples of foods most people wouldn’t guess are sugary.

With the sweet, pleasure-inducing flavor that sugar gives, it also brings along a wide-range of health problems. Insulin production is a huge problem associated with sugar intake. When sugar is consumed, insulin is released by the pancreas. Among other functions, insulin causes the body to store fat. When insulin is constantly elevated due to sugar consumption, the body is always in fat-storing mode. Its shouldn’ t be hard to see that eating sugar causes weight gain.

Similar to humans, cancer cells also can’t get enough of sugar. Studies have shown that cancer cells grow fastest and most efficiently in high sugar environments. Like other cells, they use sugar as fuel and grow exponentially. The link between obesity and cancer is becoming more clear, isn’t it?

Among other negative attributes of sugar, the immune system is damaged, free radicals in the blood are more easily formed, and total cholesterol is raised. While sugar may be a tasty little substance, our insides are paying the price for our sweet obsession.

Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that enters your blood stream from two avenues. There are two types, LDL and HDL. LDL is bad cholesterol. You want your LDL levels low. HDL is good cholesterol, and generally you would like this number to be higher. Cholesterol typical comes enters your body from two avenues. The first is your liver. You don’t have much control over how much cholesterol your liver produces, as it is largely determined by your genetics. The second (and controllable) factor is your diet.

High cholesterol foods contain saturated fats, which almost always come from animals. They also contain cholesterol, which also comes from animals. The problem with restaurants is they often use animal fats in the preparation of meals. There’s no doubt animal fats lend a savory, meaty flavor, but they come at quite the cost to your health.

Processed and prepared foods, two favorite restaurant foods, are also very high in saturated fats and cholesterol. Cholesterol leads to blocked arteries and eventually cardiac arrest. Heart disease is becoming an epidemic in this country. It is fueled by our eating habits which include high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol.

Bad Fat

You may be under the assumption that all fat is bad. Actually, there are “good” fats, as well as bad fats. Good fats include monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat which include omega fatty acids. Olive oil, salmon, and almonds are all example of foods high in good fats. These good fats lower bad cholesterol, increase the good cholesterol, and may help prevent certain cancers. Bad fats on the other hand include saturated fats and trans fats.

Saturated fats are largely found in meat and dairy products. The restaurant industry loves using fatty cuts of meat to enhance savory, flavorful sensations an eater experiences. Unfortunately the flavor is coming from heart-clogging saturated fat. Saturated fats are frequently added to cookies, sauces, dressings, chips, and mayonnaise. Most everything you will find at a chain restaurant has some level of saturated fat.

The worst offender of all however, is trans fat. Trans fat is typically man-made and added to various processed foods. Trans fats are found in margarine, cookies, fried foods, shortening, cereals, and candy. This type of fat is especially bad, given the double-barreled nature of it. Trans fat lowers your good cholesterol and raises your bad. A diet high in bad fats, as most restaurant meals are, leads to heart disease, obesity, cancer, and other impairments.

People often hear the word fat and immediately get scared. Do not be afraid of fat. Moderate amounts of good fats are completely fine for a healthy lifestyle. Be cautious of your intake of saturated fat and avoid trans fat at all costs. Remember, your body needs fat to function. Just focus on the type of fat you consume and you’ll be good to go.

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